Former President Donald Trump abruptly left a New York City courtroom on Wednesday afternoon after Judge Arthur Engoron refused to toss out the $250 million civil fraud case concerning the valuation of his properties. His departure occurred during the cross-examination by Trump’s attorneys of his former fixer Michael Cohen. Cohen was on the witness stand for most of the day, while Trump’s attorneys relentlessly attempted to lead him into contradicting himself.
At one point, under intense questioning from a Trump family attorney, Cohen appeared to falter, seemingly contradicting his earlier testimony about Trump’s role in altering property values. In response to Cohen’s apparent confusion, Trump’s team immediately requested the case be tossed, saying that Cohen—who they described as New York Attorney General Letitia James’ “star witness”— had just undone the entire case against Trump. But, their joy was shortlived as Judge Engoron quickly denied the motion, thereby triggering Trump’s extreme response.
The former president, who previously had moved slowly in and out of the courtroom, stood up abruptly muttering “unbelievable, unbelievable” and began to stride towards the door. A small posse of Secret Service agents leaped to their feet and trotted after him, with Eric Trump taking up the rear. The courtroom sat in surprised silence for a moment. Attorneys for James attempted to regain control of the situation and resumed their questioning of Cohen, giving him more time to clarify his answers.
But ultimately Cohen’s testimony might not be that important. Despite the courtroom drama, Engoron seemed unimpressed by Cohen or the possibility that his apparent inconsistencies might have undermined James’ case. Trump family attorney Cliff Robert asked a second time for an immediate verdict finding in favor of Trump, based on Cohen’s testimony.
“Absolutely denied,” Engoron said slowly and emphatically. “This case has evidence, an incredible amount—evidence all over the place…That’s absurd, Mr. Robert.”
Engoron ruled in September before the trial even started that Trump did, in fact, commit fraud. That means the main substance of the trial concerns how much Trump should pay for his wrongdoing, not whether or not he committed a crime. The judge noted that contrary to the assertions of Trump and his attorneys, Cohen was not the linchpin of James’ case.
“No way, no how is this case being dismissed because of an arguably equivocal statement by one witness who I don’t consider to be a key witness,” Engoron said. With that, Cohen was dismissed and the public was cleared from the court for the day. Engoron asked the attorneys to remain for a closed session, which Trump reportedly also attended.
The testimony from Cohen that had Trump’s team so excited took place after nearly an hour of intense cross-examination by Roberts, which included theatrical shouting and pacing by the attorney. Cohen testified that in 2019 when he appeared before a Congressional committee, he was being truthful when he said he could not recall if Trump ever directly told him to inflate the values of any of his properties on his financial statements. James has accused Trump, and Engoron has agreed with her, that Trump manipulated the values of his properties on financial statements in order to obtain better deals from banks and insurance companies.
When Cohen agreed that he was telling the truth in 2019, Trump and his other attorneys reacted as if they had collectively hit the jackpot. They threw up their hands in celebration, and Roberts went over to huddle with the former president, who, while smiling and laughing, shook his attorney’s hand vigorously. This was the point when Roberts made a motion to dismiss the case, which Engoron quickly denied. In a post on Truth Social Wednesday evening, a disappointed Trump said it had been a “Perry Mason moment.”
But it wasn’t.
After Trump left, an attorney from Letitia James’ office asked Cohen to explain his answer more fully.
“He did not specifically state, ‘Michael, go inflate the numbers,’” Cohen testified. “Donald Trump speaks like a mob boss—what he does is tell you what he wants without specifically telling you. So, when he told me I’m worth more than $4 billion, I’m worth $6, maybe $7, maybe $8—I understood what he wanted.”
Cohen’s clarification may have repaired some of the damage from his previous admission, but the details of his testimony did not seem to be significant for the judge. A string of witnesses throughout the first three weeks of the trial have repeatedly testified that the Trump Organization presented fake numbers to banks and insurance companies. They also stated that those companies offered him more advantageous rates than they would have had they realized his true net worth. Several Trump Organization employees have also stated under oath that they participated in the process of changing the numbers to look better. One of those who did so was Trump’s longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg. He testified that he had inflated the values of Trump’s assets and when he showed the figures to Trump for his approval, the former president sometimes made suggestions on changing them.
During his testimony, which preceded that of Michael Cohen, Weisselberg stated that he didn’t recall working with Cohen on the value inflation. In contrast, on Tuesday Cohen testified that during informal meetings with Trump and Weisselberg, Trump would tell them how much he wanted to be worth and the two other men would retreat to another office to work out the exact figures themselves.
For most of Wednesday morning, Cohen was cross-examined by Trump’s personal attorney, Alina Habba, who is known for her cable television appearances and noisy courtroom antics. As Habba struggled to lead Cohen through complicated questions, he appeared to be calm and controlled. But when Roberts took to the podium, his attacks on Cohen were far more targeted and Cohen was several times left stammering and struggling to give Roberts the yes or no answer he demanded. Engoron, who had regularly corrected Habba on her questioning style, gave Roberts free rein to attack.
Earlier in the day, Engoron fined Trump $10,000 for telling reporters outside the courtroom that the court clerk was “very partisan”—a violation of the gag order the judge had imposed on Trump that prohibits him from disparaging court staff. Still more witnesses are scheduled to testify, as the trial continues over the next few weeks. It is possible, even likely that those witnesses will include both Eric Trump and the former president.